Chautauqua County is one of eight communities across the nation receiving designation as a “Community of Opportunity” in the Growing Food Connections initiative, and the program took a step forward Thursday.
County Executive Vince Horrigan joined GFC team members and partners to announce the program’s kickoff at the Frank W. Bratt Agricultural Center. The county was the only community in New York state selected. The goal is to strengthen nutrition while helping farmers thrive.
“That’s exactly where I want to see us go as county executive,” Horrigan said. “I want to see us as the best of the best. This opportunity is huge.”
County Executive Vince Horrigan joins Growing Food Connections team members and partners to announce the kickoff of the Growing Food Connections initiative in Chautauqua County. Pictured from left are: Ann Abdella, executive director of the Chautauqua County Health Network; Julia Freedgood, assistant vice president for programs for the American Farmland Trust; County Executive Vince Horrigan; Emily Reynolds, interim operations manager for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County; and Samina Raja, principal investigator and associate professor at the University of Buffalo.
The initiative is funded through a U.S Department of Agriculture grant, and is designed to assist local governments create plans, policies, partnerships and public investments to enhance food systems from the farm to the consumer. The initiative also aims to support underserved residents.
The GFC initiative is led by the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University of Buffalo in partnership with the American Farmland Trust. Samina Raja, principal investigator and associate professor at the University of Buffalo, said the GFC is committed to the county’s stakeholders.
A 15-member steering committee the county established holds the duty to guide the initiative. The committee will have responsibilities of building strong collaboration, providing insights to local coordinators and ensuring work is sustained beyond the life of the initiative.
Raja said the county will also be a part of a national network of other counties trying new and innovative ideas.
“With its strong agricultural base, resilient workforce and collaborative ethos, Chautauqua County has all the ingredients to emerge as a model county in the state and country,” she said.
Julia Freedgood, assistant vice president of programs for American Farmland Trust, said the initiative begins with understanding what is happening in the county. From there, she said GFC officials will work with the steering committee and local government to build off assets and opportunities.
“Broadly, that’s to connect local agriculture to make it viable and thrive with all consumers, especially those underserved,” Freedgood said. “It could be building a bigger and better farmers market system. It could be building a food hub.”
The local initiative is led by the county and Cornell Cooperative Extension with assistance from the Chautauqua County Health Network and the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation.
“We have a lot of potential to tap into the resources from Cornell University and what we do at the cooperative extension,” said Emily Reynolds, interim operations manager for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. “It’s a wonderful collaboration, and I’m excited about the possibilities.”
Raja commended all stakeholders who made sure the application rose to a competitive level at the national stage.
The GFC initiative throughout the U.S. is a five-year, $3.96 million research initiative that’s funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a federal agency within the USDA.
For more information about the Growing Food Connections project, visit www.growingfoodconnections.org. For more information about Chautauqua County’s Growing Food Connections initiative, contact the Cornell Cooperative Extension at 664-9502 ext. 202 or ext. 212.